Florida recognizes a legal claim for publication of private facts. For the most part, the law in Florida is similar to that described in the general page on publication of private facts. See that page for a full discussion of the elements of and defenses to a private facts claim. This page addresses only those aspects of Florida law that are different from the general description.
Elements of a Private Facts Claim
In Florida, the elements of a publications of private facts claim are: (1) the publication; (2) of private facts; (3) that are offensive; and (4) are not of public concern.
Florida law does not impose liability for publication of facts that are of legitimate public concern. The Florida Supreme Court has recognized that this "newsworthiness" exception presents a "formidable obstacle" for a plaintiff bringing an invasion of privacy lawsuit. Hitchner v. Cape Publication, Inc., 549 So. 2d 1374, 1377 (Fla. 1989). This exception to liability is very broad; without question, this covers things like current events of public significance and information about the actors who take part in them. It also covers "soft news" and other human interest portrayals and accounts.
The courts have recognized, however, that individuals maintain a zone of privacy relating to certain sensitive personal matters. As a general rule, private facts about public officials and celebrities are more likely of legitimate public interest than private facts about ordinary people who get involuntarily caught up in newsworthy events.
Courts applying Florida law have found the following things, among others, to be newsworthy (i.e., of legitimate public concern):
- facts relating to child abuse allegations, which came from a confidential file released to the press in violation of a Florida statute, when the reporter was using the facts to call into question a criminal court's decision rather than "attempting to sensationalize a private nongovernment matter";
- a newspaper story detailing the abduction of a woman by her estranged husband and his holding her hostage, and publication of a photograph of the woman, clad only in a dish towel, after she was rescued by the police;
- a "canned" news film depicting the plaintiff, who was an innocent bystander during a gambling raid on a cigar store;
- a factual account of the murder of the plaintiff's husband;
- a depiction of the plaintiff as a murder witness in Bob Dylan's song about the murder trial of Ruben "Hurricane" Carter;
- a television news broadcast showing the plaintiff, a lobbyist, in a hotel bar, when the TV program was documenting how state employees spent time during a bomb threat incident that evacuated the capitol building; and
- a conversation at Bush campaign headquarters, in which the plaintiff, a political campaign worker, shared bizarre ideas like the benefits of having society guarded by a clone army, when the purpose of the article was to help readers understand the nature of support for President Bush.
In contrast, one Florida court held that a plaintiff stated a cause of action for publication of private facts when she alleged that a TV program had broadcast an interview with her about her unfortunate plastic surgery experience without disguising her voice and concealing her face as promised. The court rejected the argument that the information disclosed in the interview was newsworthy, concluding that "while the topic of the broadcast was of legitimate public concern, the plaintiff's identity was not." Doe v. Univision Television Group, Inc., 717 So.2d 63, 65 (Fla. Dist. Ct. App. 1998).
Relying on Public Records
In Florida, you generally cannot be held liable for publishing truthful information gathered from government records that are open to public inspection. So far, Florida courts have applied this protection to information obtained from court records (and from proceedings in open court), but it could apply to other government records as well, both because of a potential constitutional privilege and because the information is already exposed to the public eye.
Florida recognizes consent as a defense to a publication of private facts claim. Florida courts may recognize verbal or implied consent, but it is advisable to get it in writing whenever possible. If getting written consent is not practical, you should record try to record verbal consent using an audio or video recording device. The age of majority in Florida is eighteen; if you interview or photograph someone under the age of eighteen, you should seek consent from the subject's parent(s) or guardian. See the general description for a more detailed discussion of release forms.